FRANKFORT (AP) — About halfway through his inaugural address Tuesday, new Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin made everyone repeat the state motto with him: “United we stand, divided we fall.”
It was part of a conciliatory tone Bevin took that was no doubt designed to ease concerns of some about what the second Republican governor in the past four decades has in mind for the office. But the aggressive policy goals outlined in his speech make it clear that uniting the state around his priorities will be difficult.
Bevin plans to repeal kynect, a state-run health insurance exchange where more than 100,000 people have purchased private health plans with the help of a federal subsidy. He wants to spend public money on private education, which he said would increase competition. And he wants to transform the state’s public pension system into a 401(k) style program for all new hires.
Those were just the goals mentioned in his speech. Other priorities include legislation that would ban mandatory union membership in the workplace and make the state’s marriage license forms available on the Internet as a way to protect county clerks who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.
“My challenge to each and every one of you is to focus on that which unites us,” Bevin told a crowd of thousands during his address on the Capitol steps. “The power to stand united is within each and every one of us.”
But Bevin will have to work with the only state House of Representatives in a Southern state still controlled by Democrats. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he has told his members “don’t draw lines in the sand.” But he still was skeptical of some of Bevin’s proposals, including erasing the health care reforms put in place under former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
“If we’re going to deal in facts, the facts are that the Kentucky exchange has performed better than the federal exchange. It’s cheaper on Kentuckians. It’s done a good job for them. It’s a model for the nation. And so why would you want to move yourself from that situation?”
Bevin says the programs are too expensive, and argues that people who purchased plans on kynect can just as easily buy them from an exchange run by the federal government. And he said taxpayers cannot afford the state’s growing Medicaid program.
“We will be better for it and our people will be better for it and we will provide true access for people to the health care system and not just lip service,” Bevin said. “Having a Medicaid card is of no value if you don’t have a doctor who will see you. If it comes at a price we can’t afford, what have we done except lie to people?”
Bevin did not mention Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk whose religious beliefs led her to spend five days in jail earlier this year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. But Bevin has promised to issue an executive order removing the names of county clerks from state marriage licenses. In his speech, he pledged to resist the federal government, citing the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“We are going to exercise that sovereignty, exercise that authority and we are going to stand on our rights and do what is correct and best for the people of Kentucky,” he said.
Bevin also promised to repeal state taxes on inventory and inheritances, but did not say if or how he would replace the revenue. He also pledged to audit the state’s struggling pension funds, which are among the lowest funded in the country.
“I don’t think that it’s our role to draw lines in the sand, yet,” said Stumbo, the Democratic speaker. “Let’s see if we can play together in the sandbox, first.”
Jenean Hampton, Bevin’s lieutenant governor, made history by becoming the first black person to win statewide elected office in Kentucky. Raised in poverty by a single mother in Detroit, Hampton had dreams of being an astronaut before joining the Air Force and moving to Bowling Green to work in sales.
“Sometimes when you have a huge goal, even if you get halfway there or a third of the way there, you have grown as a person,” Hampton said during her inauguration address. “And so God ended up sending me on an incredible journey from Detroit to here. … I believe I was sent to serve. To help set to launch Kentucky on its rise from the bottom to the top.”